India’s first bullet train project may have gone to Japan but China is wooing the country to help build high-speed railway on other routes, claiming that it has the technology and expertise which could bring enormous economic and social benefits to the people.
With questions being raised on the cost factor involving setting up of high-speed railway networks, China has cited its own example of the profits that it is reaping now.
“The reason of introducing or promoting our high-speed railway (HSR) to other countries…is that we are confident in our technologies. The second reason is that we share a lot of similarities with southeast Asian countries in terms of large population and we are all developing countries,” Vice General Engineer of the China Railway Corporation Zhao Guotang told visiting journalists from India and some ASEAN nations at the China Railways headquarters here.
“We are also quite happy to share our experiences with these nations. The advantages brought by HSR to our economic and social development is quite remarkable and quite well known,” he said.
Zhao, who holds the rank of a Deputy Minister, also asserted that the construction and operation of high-speed railway is economically sound.
Significantly, questions have been raised in India about the financial viability of setting up the HSR.
“For example Nanchang to Shanghai high-speed railway line started generating profits in the first year of its operation after opening to public. Beijing to Shanghai HSR, with a total distance of 1318 km, has been earning money in third year after being thrown open. Last year, it made a profit of over six billion RMB ($927 million) and this year, it is hoped it will exceed 10 billion RMB,” Zhao said.
“Beijing to Tianjin inter-city high-speed railway line has also realised profitability and Beijing to Guangzhou high-speed rail line realised balance. So, some people may say that profitability of high-speed railway is some kind of magic thing or marvellous thing, but I should say it is needed for country’s economic and social development. It is a good thing, we are happy to share our experiences with other countries,” he said.
Earlier, India’s move to opt for Japanese bullet trains on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route had raised concerns in China which is competing with Japan to build high-speed rail networks in India.
In addition to conducting a feasibility study to build a high-speed rail track on the 2,200-km Chennai-Delhi route, an India-China consortium is also conducting a study for the 1,200-km New Delhi-Mumbai corridor.
The proposed Chennai-Delhi corridor could be the second largest in the world after China’s 2,298 km-long Beijing- Guangzhou line which was launched three years ago.
Zhao said that “actually, people often tend to pay more attention to maximum speed of HSR, but what matters most for passengers is the average operational speed”. “For our Beijing to Guangzhou HSR line, the average operational speed is 287 kmph, which is the highest in the world, the second is in France which is 246 kmph and third in Japan at 239 kmph,” he said.
“For example, from Beijing to Guangzhou HSR line the total distance is 2,298 km and the total travelling time of the fastest train on this route is 8 hours and 2 minutes,” he said.
On the feasibility studies in India, Zhao said the party responsible for such work is Third Railway Survey and Design Institute Group Corporation (TSDI) of China. “They have taken about 50 per cent of feasibility work of our overseas rail projects, so they have rich experience in this area,” he said.
Asked if HSR was an expensive proposition and if China faced similar problems when it set up such projects, he said, “actually, national conditions in India are somewhat similar to what we have in China. In the railway development of China, we have also experienced the process from the upgrading of the existing lines to the development of high-speed railway lines.”
“However, there is always a feeling for the upper limitation of upgrading our existing railway lines, that’s why we decided to develop the HSR after we have upgraded the speed of existing rail lines to 200 kmph. Not every existing rail line needs to be re-built into HSR line, this needs thorough economic analysis and it also needs consideration of the passenger demand,” he said.
Further, the senior railway official said, “I will give you two examples or two technical parameters of railways. The first is the distance between centres of tracks, this parameter of HSR than that of existing railway is quite different. If you want to build or upgrade a new line on the basis of the existing railway line, you need to overcome this difference. Actually, what you need to do is somewhat similar to built a new line.
“Second parameter is the curved radius of high-speed rail line is also different than that of existing line. In China, in our experience, most of our existing railway line run across the urban areas. So, even in our upgrading of existing rail lines, we have done a lot of work in land acquisition and re-settlement…In short, the decision between the upgrading of existing lines and building new HSR lines depends on thorough study analysis.”
Zhao said China had also experienced different voices and different opinions in the country with regards to HSR.
“But finally we decided to choose the path of developing HSR. Now, it is proved that our choice is correct,” he said.
Speaking about the train ticket price of high-speed trains, Zhao said the situation in India is very much similar to what they have in China.
“The train ticket price of existing rail line was also very cheap in China. The price is less than 10 Chinese cent per km and that for HSR, the price for second class is 48 cent per km and that for highway buses it is 87 cent to 1 Yuan per km. Ticket price of our high-speed railway is cheaper than even the highway buses and the flights as well,” he said.
Speaking of non-fare revenue, he said the land price around and adjacent to HSR stations has and will experience big increase.
HSR is also bringing profit to local government and other departments, besides helping China Railways reap profit, he stressed.
Replying to a question, Zhao said, “China’s HSR technology is much more compatible than the technologies of other countries because the availability and usability of HSR line depends on its inclusiveness within the whole railway network of the country.”
“We have the strength of people or talent. During recent decade, the last ten years, the newly built high-speed line in Japan is 350 km, that of France is 496 km, so you can see what we have in China,” he said.
Further touching upon the cost factor, he said, “the first aspect is the construction technologies, especially because of utilisation of machineries and Information Technology, we can have remarkable improvement for increase of our construction efficiency. In this way, we can ensure reasonable construction period and shorter period than some other countries.”
“Normally, for one HSR, we can finish for 3-5 years, but for some other countries, it may take 7-8 years,” Zhao said.
He also talked about the high-speed rail helping bring cities closer.
“For example, the high-speed railway has brought to us the One-City effect, that means it makes the neighbouring cities integrated…It has helped to boost the economic development of the region and of the country. It has also played a role in our social development,” he said.
Replying to a question, he said, “during our construction of high-speed railway lines in China, we have encountered a lot of difficulties, they are never less than what we have encountered now in our process of going global. But now some currently, some media are exaggerating some difficulties we have faced.”
Later, visiting the traffic control centre, Deputy Head at the centre, Zhuang He briefed the journalists about various operations.
“On daily basis, we are running over 7000 passenger trains including 4000 EMU trains,” he said.